OAKLEY -- He was toying with a career in which he could put his creative talent to good use, perhaps working on animated films or teaching art to high school students.
But Joseph Pratt's dreams came to an abrupt end last week when the 25-year-old Oakley resident was killed in a two-car collision at one of the city's busiest intersections.
Pratt had been traveling west on Laurel Road and was stopped for a red light at Empire Avenue when an SUV rear-ended him, according to an eyewitness.
The impact sent both vehicles spinning into the intersection; Pratt's came to rest on the other side facing the opposite direction.
A few bystanders offered fire extinguishers while an off-duty firefighter at the scene borrowed a knife to cut Pratt's seat belt and struggled unsuccessfully to extricate him before flames engulfed the vehicle.
Determining exactly how the accident occurred could take weeks -- even months, said Oakley Police Chief Bani Kollo, noting that investigators must sort through witnesses' statements and examine both vehicles.
"These cases are much more complex than people (realize)," he said.
The driver of the SUV was transported to a hospital with injuries but later released, Kollo said. Police are not releasing his age or city of residence.
Although collision statistics were not available, City Manager Bryan Montgomery doesn't believe the intersection is a trouble spot.
"We are not aware of any predisposition to collisions at this location," he wrote in an email.
And while officers sort through evidence, Pratt's family and friends grieve.
"His life was just beginning," said his mother, Joanie Jentzen Pratt.
Born and raised in Pittsburg, Pratt attended local schools before enrolling at De La Salle High School in Concord.
After graduating in 2005, he took art classes at both Diablo Valley and Los Medanos community colleges while working for the city of Pittsburg's parks and recreation department and later helping youngsters in an after-school program with their math.
Most recently, he was considering enrolling in San Jose State's art program, Jentzen Pratt said.
Pratt's artistic bent revealed itself early on: As a second-grader, he drew the family's living room decorated for Christmas, a picture so detailed that it included a reflection in the mirror above the piano.
His interests ranged from ink drawings, caricatures and comic books to creating cartoon figures on his computers, and Joseph hoped one day to work for the animation film studio Pixar, Jentzen Pratt said.
Jeremy Adamo believes his friend would have realized his goals.
"I knew that he would actually make something of himself," said the 25-year-old Pittsburg resident, who admired Pratt's dedication to his craft.
"Unlike most people, he wasn't afraid of hard work," Adamo said. "That wasn't Joe. He was the opposite."
A fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Pratt also enjoyed playing the blues as well as classic rock on his electric guitar.
He took pride in his appearance, preferring Dockers and the De La Salle dress code of collared shirts.
Tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs had no place in his life. "He always said that he never wanted to be out of control," Jentzen Pratt said.
Pratt also showed himself to be a loving grandson, fixing computers and doing yardwork for both sets of grandparents, she said.
"He was not a 'me, me, me' person," said his father, Walter Pratt.
Although Pratt was on the quiet side, he had a streak of the goofball and made others laugh with his impersonations of accents and actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Carrey.
The young man's death has shaken David Gautier, who's been pondering the devastation he witnessed as he and others tried to rescue an unresponsive Pratt.
And then his thoughts turn to the other driver.
"Two families were devastated from this experience," Gautier said. "The immediate concern is with the Pratts, but the second family is also in a lot of people's thoughts, knowing the agony that family is going through as well."
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.